Stan Stephens’s Categorical Misunderstandings of Atheism, Part 3

I’m now going to comment on Stan’s post, “What I Learned at Patheos.”

Stan’s Integrity-Challenged Description of His Interactions at the Secular Outpost

My foray into patheos–land is over. I don’t usually venture into other blogs because they are commonly infested with nasty hangers-on (PZ anyone?), but this one seemed different… at first. And it is different, but really only in the politeness of their same old refusal to actually engage in any analysis of atheism. After I posted a number of comments with various commenters requesting the standard evidence and logic for support of their beliefs, everyone but two of them just went away: vanished. The two who remained educated me on the actual purpose of the forum, and then went into silly mode, as do most atheists who are challenged with producing the actual evidence and logic which they claim is their domain.

And a bit later in the same post, we read:

No matter how many times I pointed out that atheism should be robust enough to be defended based on its own facts and principles, no one engaged. No one ever produced any case in defense of Atheism, except for silly stories a couple of times. All they did was the standard dance around, dodging all attempts to get them to produce conclusive reasons for having atheism as a worldview.

If one read Stan’s revisionist history (in the above quotation) and nothing else, they’d think that Stan’s request for evidence and arguments for atheism went unanswered. But that’s a lie: I provided sixteen lines of evidence. Furthermore, it’s false that people just “went away” and “vanished” OR “went into silly mode.” Ryan M, Jason Thibodeau, and I did not just “go away.” Nor did we go into “silly mode.”

Stan denies that this is a lie. He writes:

Now I’m being called a liar, over at Patheos. It is claimed that I did not respond to the analysis nor to the list of purported empirical studies which apparently robustly prove that there is no deity possible and that a deity cannot exist. I replied to the analysis; and I also said that I would read all the list of evidence. Who is lying?

The accusation is not, “Stan responded neither to the analysis nor the list of empirical evidence; therefore, Stan lied.” Rather, the accusation is this: “Stan says that no one produced any case in defense of atheism, but Lowder did and Stan knows it. ”


The purpose of that area of the web, I was told, is not deduction; they just aren’t interested in deduction, it’s, well, not interesting. What they like at that site is induction and Bayesian probabilities. Now as we know over here, induction is a fine precursor to science, in the sense that it is a classification tool. Items with like or similar characteristics are placed into a single category, and then differentiated into sub-categories, and sub-sub-categories. But it also is a tool for rationalization, of a sort, where a conclusion is asserted and premises are sought which support it. This is intellectually hazardous, because a case can be built with supportive premises while ignoring, or not identifying, negating premises. When used exclusively, it can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. This is especially the case when it is used as the tool for justifying a cherished worldview.

1. No, Stan, induction is NOT a “classification tool.” It is a branch of logic. In addition to my own quick overview of inductive logic, interested readers may wish to consult the excellent article on inductive logic in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
2. What about Stan’s claim that inductive logic “is a tool for rationalization, of a sort, which supports it” because “a case can be built with supportive premises while ignoring, or not identifying, negating premises”? I guess that could be true if you ignore the fact that inductive logic’s Rule of Total Evidence requires that the premises of an inductive argument embody all of the relevant evidence. Or … maybe it’s false and Stan doesn’t know what the Hell he is talking about.


Deduction, is rather the opposite. A hypothesis is declared, and investigated to determine its truth value, based on explicit rules for maintaining the complete integrity of all elements of the argument, as well as contrary alternatives. Empiricism uses deduction as a check on inductively declared hypotheses. Deduction/experimentation are the objective part of physical knowledge attainment. Induction is not.

This shows that Stan is also confused about deductive logic. In valid deductive arguments the premises entail the conclusion, in the sense that if the premises are true, the conclusion has to be true. This has nothing to do with “declaring a hypothesis” and then “investigating it to determine its truth value.”

Bayes’s Theorem and Probability Theory

Bayesian probability theory is an attempt to reconcile the tension between a hypothesis and its alternative(s).

Ummm, no. Bayesian probability theory uses Bayes’s Theorem to measure the effect of new information upon one’s degree of belief in a hypothesis.

One of the problems with Bayesian calculations arises when the actual probabilities are not known, and the prejudice of the person doing the calculations is allowed entry into the calculating process. A famous case called simply the Philpott Example is used in one statistics book to demonstrate the collapse of the calculation into prjudice: it occurs when the calculator believes that the proposition being investigated is absurd so he assigns a probability of zero to it. That winds up giving the Bayesian calculation a value of zero divided by zero. Even if he assigns an actual non-zero value to it, it still can be seen to be prejudicial, being based solely on the opinion of the individual. This is an Argumentum Ad Absurdum falsification for the use of Bayes, at least for ideologies.

1. This point has nothing to do with the arguments I provided, which rely solely upon objective factors to determine the relevant probabilities.

2. If the use of Bayes’s Theorem were inappropriate for the philosophy of religion, then theistic Bayesians like Richard Swinburne, the McGrews, and Richard Otte didn’t get the memo. Or … maybe it is appropriate and they understand Bayesian probability theory better than Stan does.

Bayesian calculations are also circular, in the sense that a presupposition of truth of a proposition actually serves to place the conclusion into the hypothesis. Since the calculation involves a subjective input, it is again based solely on the opinion of the individual. So used in isolation from other techniques (disciplined deduction for example), dependence on Bayes can devolve into self-fulfilling prophecies just like induction.

False. A circular argument is an argument in which the conclusion is stated in (or entailed by) one or more of the premises. Consider the following argument which uses Bayes’s Theorem.

Let B be our background information; E be the existence of human consciousness; T be theism; and N be naturalism.

1. E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
2. N is not intrinsically much more probable than T, i.e., Pr(N | B) is not much greater than Pr(T | B).
3. Pr(E | T) =1 > Pr(E | N).
4. Other evidence held equal, N is probably false, i.e., Pr(N | B & E) < 1/2.

Which premise(s) entail the conclusion? Answer: none. This shows the argument is not circular.

There are instances where opinion of the calculator would not necessarily be a factor; atheist calculations of the probability of the truth of atheism would not qualify as objective, however, and would not qualify as one of those instances.

This is a yet another statement of Stan’s prejudice. To show why it is false, let’s consider an actual evidential (Bayesian) argument for naturalism.

(1) Evolution is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.
(2) The statement that pain and pleasure systematically connected to reproductive success is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that evolutionary naturalism is true than on the assumption that evolutionary theism is true.
(3) Therefore, evolution conjoined with this statement about pain and pleasure is antecedently very much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true. [From 1 and 2]
(4) Naturalism is at least as plausible as theism.
(5) Therefore, other evidence held equal, naturalism is very much more probable than theism. [From 3 and 4]
(6) Naturalism entails that theism is false.
(7) Therefore, other evidence held equal, it is highly probable that theism is false. [From 5 and 6]

Whether one agrees with this argument or not, the probability calculations in this argument aren’t subjective. They’re either objectively true or objective false.


About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.